M Katie White is a photographer and mixed-media artist currently based in Iowa City. She graduated with a BFA from The University of Akron in Ohio, and is a recent graduate from The University of Iowa, where she received her MFA. Her work focuses on the intersection of environmental activism and personal issues, pulling inspiration from locations with a connection to her life. This work is grounded in scientific research, pulled from sources like Environmental Protection Agency and assorted conservation organizations. In addition to making these issues more accessible, her work communicates an important message: We must all work together to ensure a more sustainable future for all of us.
Great Lakes Great Mistakes
For many years when Katie was little, she spent her summers playing on the shore of one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world. No matter how often she visited, there was always something exciting about the lake. Bigger than anything else she had ever known, it was as vast as you would imagine outer space could be. Great as it was, the edges were hers. From the shore to the buoys marked No Swimming Past this Point, that was home. But even in that safe space, Lake Michigan could remind her of its true size and her place in it. Even in such depths, nothing stays hidden forever. On the days when fish kills plagued the lake, the shores were choked with bodies. Katie and her brother would wade through the glassy-eyed corpses until they reached the open water. These fish kills were mostly caused by pockets of industrial pollution being stirred up in the water — an occurrence that continues to this day. They’d do their best to pick past, but it was impossible to avoid touching them. She still remembers the feeling. Cold, slick, and still. The feeling of a secret brought to the surface.
The Great Lakes face a long history of industrial pollution. Katie’s main focus revolves around what the EPA considers to be the Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs). It contains a list of 27 rivers that flow into the Lakes, most of which are or have been areas of industrial and chemical pollution. They range from Michigan, Ohio, New York, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. Since 1987 when the Great Lakes Quality Agreement was formed, the EPA has delisted only four of these rivers. The Great Lakes make up 95% of the US’s fresh water supply and are places of vast but fragile biodiversity. Due to climate change, the world’s fresh water is decreasing at an alarming rate — making conservation more vital than ever. Growing up, Katie always heard the old Michigan slogan, “Great Lakes Great Times” — a hopeful message meant to draw people to these wondrous bodies of water. She wants to protect that.
Katie’s goal goes beyond raising the alarm and revealing the issues facing the Great Lakes. She want to show you how you can help. She wants to have hope that even in this political climate, we work together to restore the Great Lakes and ensure a better future for all of us.
To view more of Katie’s work please visit her website.